The sights, sounds and tastes of fall will be different in St. Charles Parish this year as two of the most widely anticipated annual events have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
United Way of St. Charles announced the cancellation of the 2020 Battle for the Paddle at its August board of directors meeting, and the Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish has also decided to cancel the 2020 Alligator Festival.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t have Battle for the Paddle this year – not only because it’s just plain fun – but because it’s a big part of promoting our campaign,” Executive Director for United Way of St. Charles John Dias said. “We worry that at a time where needs are up, our fundraising may be down.”
He said after carefully monitoring developments related to COVID-19 over the last several months, the Battle for the Paddle committee and United Way board of directors unanimously voted to cancel this year’s event.
“For the safety and health of those in our community, the best decision for all is to cancel this year’s United Way Battle for the Paddle Cook-Off,” United Way Board President and Valero St. Charles VP and General Manager Jerry Stumbo said. “Our community is strong, and we know the support for United Way is on-going.”
Battle for the Paddle, the world’s largest jambalaya and gumbo cook-off, is held annually on the first Thursday in October and serves as the official kick-off for the United Way of St. Charles fundraising campaign.
Last year, over 150 teams participated in the cooking competition held at the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center in Luling and over 8,000 attendees sampled unlimited tastings of jambalaya and gumbo while enjoying live music and supporting United Way of St. Charles.
“We reviewed the current CDC and Louisiana Department of Health guidelines, as well as the additional restrictions and requirements from the state, and there is no way for us to safely plan our event at this time,” United Way of St. Charles Volunteer and Events Manager Tamara Plattsmier said. “The health and safety of our community are very important to our organization.”
The 2020 Battle for the Paddle cancellation marks the first time the event has been cancelled in its 19-year history. The date for the 2021 Battle for the Paddle has been set for October 7, 2021.
Funds raised at Battle for the Paddle are used to support United Way of St. Charles’ 32 partner agencies and 100+ programs throughout the year. The non-profit gives over $3.8 million in annual funding to those agencies and programs.
Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish President Carrie Thomas said the club’s members thought of all the possible ways that the Alligator Festival could still be held this year.
“In the end, with the needed safety measures, the same quality festival would not have been possible,” she said.
The main purpose of the festival is fundraising for the Rotary Scholarship Program.
“Decades of support from our community, and 40 years of festival success, have meant that the Scholarship Program will survive even without an Alligator Festival this year,” Alligator Committee Chairman Eric Dishongh said. “On behalf of the festival committee, and the Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish, we’d like to thank the St. Charles Parish community for its years of continuing support and invite everyone to come out next year to our 2021 Alligator Festival September 23 -26, 2021.”
While the two organizations stand to lose revenue from the cancelled events, the parish as a whole will also be impacted by the losses.
“I will defer to each organization to provide comment pertaining to the budgetary impacts of each event,” St. Charles Parish Economic Development Director Corey Faucheux said. “However, because the two events are major fundraisers for two very generous and impactful organizations, we are hopeful and strongly encourage residents to continue to donate to each.”
Faucheux said every year the hotel, restaurant and tourism (HRT) classes at the St. Charles Parish Satellite Center conduct an economic impact analysis on the Alligator Festival. Key findings of the 2019 festival estimated that attendance was nearly 13,500 people.
“Over 40% of the attendees were not residents of St. Charles Parish,” Faucheux said. “It truly is a tourism draw for the parish.”
Because the average amount spent by each attendee was estimated at $105, the overall economic impact of the festival is estimated to be just over $1.4M.
Faucheux said even though the Alligator Festival is the primary fundraiser for the Rotary Club, there are other non-profit organizations who are vendors at the event and also use it as a fundraiser.